Saturday, June 27, 2015
I love, love, love having a big city to explore
And Tokyo is truly, by anyone's standards, a big city. As I had never been to Japan before, everything was interesting, new and different, everywhere we went and (almost) everywhere I pointed my camera.
Quite near where we were staying, we came across the Benkei Fishing Club in Akasaka.
What is now a pond for boating was once part of an old castle moat.
My wonderful sister, bless her, was much better at planning than me, and always carried a Rough Guide or two. The Tokyo one tipped us off to the gorgeous secluded garden at the Hotel New Otani.
The garden is actually hundreds of years older than the 1960's hotel. Part of what made it a bit magical was that you couldn't just access it from outside - we went up a couple of floors from the hotel entry level and wandered a ways through the building to get there.
There were several friendly cats roaming the garden, and lots of colourful koi in the water.
The next day we went to Shinjuku. First destination was the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building, which has observation decks on the 45th floor. You can see a whole lot of Tokyo from 202 metres up. Apparently you can also see Mt Fuji, but it wasn't clear enough for that the day we were there.
While there are one or two other, higher, Tokyo towers, this one charges no admission fee, and we had other business in Shinjuku anyway. We had loose plans to stop in Harajuku on the way back as well, but sort of ran out of time - the closest we got was this view of Yoyogi Park (the big green area in the photo above).
Our other business - the many floors of craft and haberdashery that is Okadaya - required getting from the west side of the massive Shinjuku train station to the east side. It was frustrating, but I'm not sure there is any simple way to do it. Although they do directional signs, even in English/Rōmaji, pretty well in stations (and in Japan in general) it's just really hard to find a straight path through a complex station, and avoid paying for trains you aren't going to catch.
By the time we made it out to the correct exit and fresh air, we had picked up lunch/snacks on our way through the station, and were really hungry. We had already worked out that eating on the street is not really done, but resigned ourselves to attracting some stares by eating while leaning on a railing outside the station. It's funny, there is lots of really, great, cheap convenience food available but I guess it's intended for taking home/to the office/eating on the train (though not, it appears, the metro).
During our two weeks such etiquette matters came up a bit. Japan just seems so polite and conservative in many ways (though I'm aware there are all sorts of undercurrents and countercultures), Though it felt like odd tourist behaviour would be pretty well tolerated (within limits I'm sure), we still were probably overly aware of how we were different. We'd catch ourselves talking/laughing on the metro, taking silly photos...
The way people dress is pretty conservative too. As well as not wearing very tight clothes, I noticed that most women showed very little skin, wearing flesh coloured hose and socks even in very warm weather (and even sometimes with shorts!) Our summer clothes were nowhere near indecent, but we often felt less covered up than the average Japanese lady. Also less dressy - it seemed that people don't just dress up for work but also for almost any outing (eg) a day trip to an island involving a lot of walking, climbing stairs - the kind of thing Australians would probably dress most casually for.
A crowd had gathered outside this violin shop to listen to the quartet playing inside, facing the window, with speakers on the outside.